Principled Action

Dear Readers,

I found an old Gmail account I haven’t used in a while, signed in, and deleted it. Screw you, Google. I deleted Facebook and moved to Diaspora. I’m also toying with MeWe, but probably not for long since it’s centralized and even deleted a friend’s whole group because they disagreed. I also dumped Microsoft Windows®, since I have no wish to contribute to Bill Gates’ bullcrap, in favor of Linux.
Now it’s Mozilla to delete, because of this. New default setting to filter out content the new dictators don’t like. So it’s Brave browser instead of Firefox, and Evolution instead of Thunderbird. I gave Geary a shot, but when I clicked on Preferences in Geary the app would crash (at least on my current Linux distro). My Internet provider, AT&T, owns CNN Fake News. So I’m working on changing my ISP as well.
My own family thinks I’m “paranoid,” but I’d be hypocritical not to put my convictions into action. They agree that Big Tech is a big, evil problem, but they’ll go ahead and continue giving big tech control over their Internet use, social media, and privacy. No, I’m not paranoid, I’m principled and doing what principle demands.

So, those of you have read my previous post about Diaspora are probably wondering what in hell I’m doing going back there again! Well… Here’s the thing:

It’s decentralized. Meaning it’s not under the control of one single person. If one server (“pod,” in Diaspora’s lingo) goes rogue, I can jump to another or for that matter, run my own!

I’ve found ways to clean up the crap and make Diaspora what I want it to be. It takes some time to do that, but I think it’s worth the trouble. Ask me how in the comments if you’d like to try it. And,

MeWe is such a bewildering, cluttered mess by comparison. Diaspora’s user interface is intuitive and simple, in spite of the learning curve which I think is comparable to Fakebook’s. While “Groups” are a thing on MeWe, I’m able to create my own groups on Diaspora, kinda sorta, by dedicating an Aspect (category) to share exclusively with.

Call me paranoid or a conspiracy type if you want, but one thing you can’t call me is a hypocrite. I’m acting on my beliefs, not just whining about what’s wrong with the rest of the world.

Snaps: Good or Bad?

On older hardware – BAD. Snaps gobble up scarce resources on older hardware. On newer hardware with a zillion and twelve terrabyres of RAM and storage space, not that big a deal, but still a lot less efficient than good ol’ tried-and-true .deb or .rpm packages on Linux.

So why would Ubuntu make snap packaging the default in their distro and it’s flavors? Because it relieves them of the burden of having to maintain all those modified .debs in huge repositories with multiple packagers and maintainers. The burden shifts to the writers and vendors of the software instead of maintainers at Canonical / the Ubuntu family. Saving lots of work and lots of money.

The problem is, though, that updates to software for the operating system can mess up the snap applications, and vice versa! With repositories and maintainers, those problems are avoided most of the time. That’s prob’ly why Linux Mint said “no freaking way” to snaps as the default on Linux Mint. It’s a distro for newcomers to Linux, and having it break all the time because one independent package out of thousands of them borks the system is enough to drive users back to proprietary OSes and imagine, as before, that Linux is “just for geeks and for servers.”

This video is kinda long, but it’s good! More info about snaps, and why they’re unpopular with developers of even Ubuntu-based derivative distros:

Yup, they’re bad.

The Future of Ubuntu (and Ubuntu-based distros)

There are Pros and Cons for everything, but when a distro’s development team makes big changes in policy towards users, there’s always a reason for it, and it’s not always a reasonable choice. Such may be the case with Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distribution. There’s a big discussion about it going on in their forums (clicky here to have a look). Yes, this matters a lot because it affects every flavor of Ubuntu and every “downstream” project derived from Ubuntu (Linux Mint, Linux Lite, ElementaryOS, and one zillion and twelve others).

Snaps and Flatpaks and such are probably the future anyway, but the vetting of software by a bunch of testers before distribution to users should never go away. But unless you build your own OS from scratch (and some people do), you have to live with whatever the distribution developers decide.

That would be most of us. This “apparent” decision by Ubuntu developers, while probably relieving them of the burden of maintaining packages for their users (and making their job a lot easier and not having to keep package maintainers on the job getting updates to testers and then to users), it also means that we ordinary desktop users could end up as unwitting software testers, trying to find workarounds for broken software. We’re already finding that in instances where the Snap version of a software won’t work but the .deb version from the repository works fine, or vice versa. And that, more than anything else, has been my chief complaint with Ubuntu for years: Making unwitting testers out of novices and newbies without their knowledge (let alone consent).

Read the linked discussion and offer some comments! I’d love to know what some of my Linuxer readers think of this new trend.

PCLinuxOS Mini Xfce Edition

I have been writing about why I jumped from Ubuntu-derived Linux Lite to PCLinuxOS. Linux Lite – with addition of a vitally important safety feature from the awesome and venerable Ralphy’s own repository – is by far the best newbie-friendly distro for older hardware I have ever had the pleasure to use. Just one issue: It’s “daemon possessed.”

And I don’t mean it’s administered by a Ferengi starship commander, either. A daemon is a program that runs in the background. Every decent operating system has daemons, or it would hardly be useful for us ordinary mortals. But this one particular daemon, named systemd, is a dangerous, invasive, “supervisory” one that does more than just initialize programs and applications and allocate the proper resources to them. It oversees, overrules, overextends, and keeps a record of every process. It has many security vulnerabilities and other issues that sent me fleeing away, at least until it can be tamed and put on a leash or something, if ever.

I wanted a Linux distribution that was not only not possessed by that evil daemon, but also beginner-friendly and technophobe-friendly. Salix would have sufficed in the first department, but not really in the second. A little more research and I re-discovered PCLinuxOS. There’s a nice community Xfce edition with lots of extra stuff in it that I actually don’t need or want, but that is true of every newbie-friendly Linux mixture. I found a “Xfce mini” edition, put together by the revered and praiseworthy Ika, a long-time member of the very loyal and enthusiastic PCLOS community. I installed it today on the old laptop and just wanted to describe the experience a little, for the benefit of any readers who are looking to escape the systemd threat without losing the simplicity and “friendliness” of wonderful Linux distros like Mint, the ‘buntu family, LXLE, Linux Lite, ElementaryOS, and many more built from Ubuntu. For them, if they have decent hardware that isn’t more than a couple of years old, there is the flagship KDE edition of PCLinuxOS. It has it all! I prefer the lightweight, infinitely configurable, and super-simple Xfce desktop. It’s the default desktop of Linux Lite, and also the default desktop of several Linux distributions meant for use by children! So it’s not complicated, but it’s powerful, simple, and nimble on older hardware. The Xfce flavor of PCLinuxOS is available in two different forms: The standard one is basically kinda sorta PCLinuxOS with Xfce tied on. The “mini” Xfce version has few installed applications, just enough to run it and then install the software you really want and prefer to use. It uses Synaptic Package Manager (yeah, you read that right, Synaptic, even though it’s not Debian or Ubuntu-based) to update and install software from a vast, hyooooge, very extensive repository! It even has Seamonkey! Cool, no adding PPAs and all that high-risk nonsense. LXLE has like six or eight added PPAs besides Ubuntu’s, just to get the latest versions of LibreOffice, to make Seamonkey available to their users, and the latest daily builds of other popular software. That’s nice, but the more PPAs you add to an Ubuntu-based OS, the greater the risk of something breaking when installed and/or updated. My other complaint with Ubuntu-based distros is the inexplicable presence of beta software in a distro intended for novice users! I just think that is unconscionable. Systemd, by the way, is beta quality even if it’s not billed that way.

Okay, end of lecture on why I switched (and why others should, in my opinion). Now the good part.

The Xfce Mini Live USB cranked right up and ran fast and responsively in Live mode. Installation may be unfamiliar to folks who are used to the Ubuntu-based stuff, but it’s pretty easy. Clicking on the “install PCLinuxOS” icon brings up a nice step-by-step set of instructions. The DrakLive installer uses GParted, but helps the user along. BACK UP ALL YOUR STUFF to an external media first!

I don’t do the dual-boot thing, and I didn’t install PCLOS alongside another distro. So I chose “custom partitioning.”

A swap partition, traditionally about 2X your computer’s RAM. I gave “/” 20 Gigabytes of space on my HDD, and all the rest of the drive is “/home.”
WORD OF CAUTION: If you already have a /home directory on the drive that you used with a different distro, format that sucker! “Foreign” settings and stuff will definitely interfere with PCLinuxOS default settings. Keep your documents, pictures, videos, browser / email profiles etc on external media to use after installation.

Now tell the installer what bootloader and device you want to use. The default is Grub on the hard drive.

Now the magic happens!

Ohhhh, it’s wonderful! The entire process from start to finish took under 10 minutes on my laptop. My only issue was that I needed to use my little non-proprietary USB wifi dongle to get an internet connection. That’s common with the stupid Broadcom wireless hardware in Dell computers. Not a show-stopper really, just a minor annoyance. Easily fixed after installation. On a desktop with a wired internet connection, no issue at all.

Then reboot when it’s finished, but do not remove the Live media (USB or DVD) until prompted to do so.

On first boot, you’ll choose your root password and set up a user (with a different password – this ain’t Ubuntu!). Log in and enjoy!

The mini Xfce version has enough to get you going. First thing: Update! You can do it when prompted to, but on the mini you’ll want to open Synaptic and choose your favorite apps. I install Seamonkey, ddCopy, xournal, Faenza icon set, and a few other favorites. LibreOffice isn’t included in the mini version, so install it from Synaptic if you want it. GParted and ddCopy do what Mintstick did in Linux Lite (and Mint), so I’m comfortable with that. This is a truly customized mixture, and the cool thing is, you can use MyLiveCD to roll your own custom-made, just-the-way-you-want-it iso to install on another computer. It does what Systemback did (and by the way, Systemback is about to lose it’s maintainer, so it may not be available in the next LTS releases of Ubuntu and it’s derivatives).

I’m just enjoying this so much, and I feel so much better to have exorcised the systemd daemon from my OS.

Seamonkey Themes!

Y’know those wicked cool themes that make Firefox look so cool? Well guess what! They work on Seamonkey now too! One of the reasons I like Seamonkey better than Mozilla’s more popular separate browser (Firefox) and e-mail client (Thunderbird) is because it’s so nimble and quick to load even on my modest hardware. Much quicker than either Firefox or Thunderbird, but this is both in a beautifully integrated package. And it has real actual buttons that you just click on instead of menus to muddle through and then click on. It’s “old school” simplicity.

Some of you old timers might remember the awesome Internet suite called Netscape. Well this is Netscape, only better! The old Netscape suite is a Mozilla project, free and open-source! And for people with older, modest hardware it’s ideal. It’s also ideal for us “old school” folks who like nice simple clickable buttons instead of weird-looking menus that make you search through a bunch of options. It also is fully compatible with most Firefox add-ons! And now, the latest version can be better-looking than ever now that many Firefox themes run in Seamonkey without slowing it down.

Enjoy!